Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"If God is dead, so is reason."

Michael Novak explains the dependence of scientific reasoning on belief in the God of the Bible in "Science and Religion" at FIRST THINGS. Excerpts:
According to the conventional narrative, science and religion have been at war for some three hundred years. But the reality is deeper and more complex. The English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote in his Science and the Modern World (1925) that without devotion to the God of Israel, modern science would not have come into being. When humans learned that the God of Israel was the fountain and origin of all that is, and of all the stunning intelligibility within every part of creation, they had a motive for dedicating their whole lives to unlocking the secrets hidden in creation. More important, they had great confidence that this search would not be in vain. .... In the cultures shaped by the Bible, human beings had confidence that all questions can be answered if diligently pursued. They had confidence that all those disparate answers would point to a coherence and almost mathematical beauty that is breathtaking to contemplate. ....

Of course, many today hold that all this talk about God, Creator, Prime Intelligence, and the Act of Existence is gibberish. Yet even they must admit that it was to their good fortune that, in a small family of cultures, a decisive number of inquirers, scholars, and copyists of ancient manuscripts did learn to expect pervasive intelligibility in the universe because of their faith in an ordering Intelligence. That is why they were willing to invest most of the hours of their humble lives in preparing the way for modern science.

In other words, the belief shared by (at first) a few million of the Earth’s inhabitants that a light emanates from the Creator of the world, and suffuses all things, gave them a strong motivation for devoting their lives to scientific efforts. They wanted to learn more about God by studying the world He made. ....

This idea of a transcendent Creator assures us that in examining and experimenting with nature, we are violating no taboo, and not defiling God. It is through experimentation that we come to understand and to appreciate the work of His creative genius. By contrast, those peoples who identified their God with some creature within creation—the serpent, the jaguar, the rain—were afraid, lest by inquiry or experiment they might arouse His anger. It is by experiment that, today, many who do not believe in an intelligent Creator encounter the intelligibility that suffuses all things. Even unbelievers, by their actions if not their words, show their confidence in the unified intelligibility of all things. This confidence is the cultural patrimony bequeathed them by generations of believers.

Today, roughly half of all scientists are atheists. Yet, insofar as they are scientists, they share the same confidence that the sacrificing of one’s whole life to the pursuit of asking questions is a noble and worthy vocation. In this conviction, they act as if they believed in God. .... [more]

FIRST THINGS is a superb magazine. If you are the least bit interested in the intersection of religion with politics and the culture, it is indispensable. Subscribe here [I get the electronic version]. The website and blog also always have interesting material.

The image is of an older issue, February, 2007. The mix of articles in this issue is fairly typical, and, since it is an older issue, they are accessible to non-subscribers. A subscription would not be a bad Christmas gift to yourself or someone else.

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Science and Religion

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